Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Waiting for the Mystery

            I have a blog, but I am terrible about updating it. I type enough in writing 10-20 page papers for graduate school that the last thing I want to do it type more. When I write, I journal. Handwritten thoughts complete with all the spelling and grammar mistakes you could wish for and more. But I'm on a break from school until tomorrow and I thought this could use a more recent entry. This blog is supposed to be around the theme of living and loving simply, just simply sharing the love and care of the Divine with others and embracing it for myself.
              Lately it has felt less simple. I have felt a stirring within me, something I cannot name yet and I'm not even sure if I feel welcoming or unwelcoming towards whatever I feel is coming. I only noticed it because I started listening to Sara Groves a lot more recently for no particular reason at all and suddenly her lyrics moved me all over again when they hadn't really in months. The truth is, until recently I was very uneasy with God, Church, Jesus, the Bible, doctrine and everything else that defines the religion in which I grew up. I no longer believe a lot of the things I was taught, but have been finding it hard to hold on to what it is I do believe. Because of that, I have felt estranged from the Christian community and afraid of those who were a part of that community in my past. But two weeks ago, I visited one of those people, a woman who had always been a dear mentor and friend to me in what feels like a past life.
                  I had not seen this friend in four years and she did not walk with me through these last two years of incredible transformation. To be honest, I almost feared seeing her again. I was afraid of what she would think of who I'd become, of what I have come to think, feel, believe, and act out. I feared her disapproval and that she would affirm my feelings of estrangement. None of that happened. In fact, she said to me, "Stevie, I am so glad that you are still you. Some people change and become less of themselves, but you have changed and have become even more of yourself." I talked with her, watched her with her family, and got to share life with her for what was far too short a visit and returned feeling more hopeful, accepted, peaceful, and embraced by God and community than I had in a while. I noticed this feeling and this Sara Groves lyric came to me: 'No time to grab the camera. No time to write it down, just time enough to breathe it in and linger.' That was all the time I had, 'to breathe it in and linger,' and now something else it stirring, an unrest, and I do not know its name or purpose yet, but I can feel it and I know it's God.

And my prayers reflect Sara Groves' lyrics:

I keep wanting you to be fair, but that's not what you said. I want certain answers to these prayers but that's not what you said.  ~"What I Thought I Wanted"

But my body's tired from trying to bring you here. My brow is furrowed from trying to see things clear. So I'll turn my back to the black and fall and wait for the mystery to rise up and meet me. ~"Mystery"

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Why don't we listen?

Wouldn't it be a beautiful picture of the Kingdom if the federal minimum wage was instead a federal living wage? Why don't we have a federal maximum wage to compliment the minimum wage? Maybe then the United States wouldn't have the highest degree of income inequality of any other developed country. Maybe then so many people wouldn't be living below the poverty line while the richest 1% in the US owns 37% of the world's wealth. Maybe then CEO's wouldn't earn 275 times what an average worker earns or earn in a single work day more than that average worker earns in a year. We need a federal maximum wage. It is immoral for there to be a cap on how much governmental money a poor person can receive, and yet no ceiling at all for how much more money a CEO can add to their net worth. After all folks, you have 80 years or so here and then you can't take it with you. Why don't we listen to Jesus when he says not to store up wealth here on earth where moths can eat it? Why don't we listen to his parable about the nameless rich man and the homeless Lazarus. The rich man made his heaven on earth for his 80 years and was forgotten and cast away for eternity, while Lazarus suffered for his lifetime and was embraced by God. Why don't we listen?

I swear, I'm becoming a socialist more and more by the day. But, hey, I'm just trying to listen to Jesus.

And because I'm in grad school and taught to cite all of my information:

Statistics derived from:
Mooney, L., Knox, D., and Schacht, C. (2011). Understanding Social Problems. (7th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Better Way

I don't understand why if current schools are failing, the solution is more schools.
I don't understand why if current churches are not meeting the needs of their neighborhoods, the solution is more churches.
As if more men with guns will end a war quicker.
As if more money will make a wealthy person's life happier.

Why do we keep using the same old colonizing systems that have only served to perpetuate injustice? It is time for a new way. Time for a new path of love and coming alongside and dialogue with the oppressed and mutual care and sacrifice of self. In our world of greedy, power-hungry capitalists, does the way of the homeless Jesus have anything to say to those of us who are truly ready for something better?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

What is justice?

This week has been exhausting, hectic, challenging, life giving, fun, and frustrating all at once. I have been in Residency for grad school which means that instead of my usual online class structure, for one week we are in-class intensive from 8AM to 5PM (or 8PM if there is a mandatory feeding/lecture). It is not all lectures, though; it is also a lot of experiential learning and Socratic discussion. In the midst of Residency, I have also been in Tech Week, or Hell Week, for Jesus Christ Superstar. I have not been a huge fan of this show the entire rehearsal process but this week it has grown on me more despite the grueling hours, last minute changes and additions, and incessant playing of the songs in my head from dawn till dusk. While the songs run on repeat throughout the day, I am expected focus on class and learning about the urban context and think deeply and ask questions and complete assignments. To be honest, I have enjoyed this semester far less than the summer semester, but what I have enjoyed is the challenge to my faith and chosen path that it has provided.

Yesterday, we went on a field trip of sorts to community development organizations. On a structural level, the two could not be more different, but both desired to help people and improve communities. But there was something about sitting there and listening to them that felt off to me. I felt like there was something key that we are missing in our desire to “do good.” Throughout the day as I listened to the work they do, their mission and goals, and how they carry out their values, a fire burned inside of me and I kept praying to Jesus, “Where is this coming from and what does it mean?” Complex issues of gentrification, poverty, employment, education, housing, etc. came up in the discussions and I felt this fire begin to mold and form a question that I was not sure I wanted to ask. I’ve been feeling this flame growing for weeks but yesterday I felt like it was about to burst out of me with this question, “Are we always destined to cause injustice in our pursuit of justice? Did Jesus ever do that in his ministry? If the answer is that he did not, then what the hell are we doing wrong?”

I do not know the answer, but I cling to this verse as I continue to ask the question:

He has showed you what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Monday, September 26, 2011

A unexpected visit from Jesus

B: Will you be doing your vocal warm-ups today?

Me: Um...I'm going to try but I don't know how much time I'll have before the kids get here.

B: You know, I used to sing but I haven't for a long time. My son died ten years ago and I haven't had the will to do it since.

Me: Oh.

B: But I think maybe it is time. I think he would be disappointed in me. I used to be a professional singer, you see, and he would come to all my performances and whisper to whoever was sitting next to him, "That's my mom!" He would be 27 now. I think maybe sometime I would like to come and sing some of the warm ups with you.

Me: I would be honored.

B: I want to do it for my son.

Jesus, thank you for the reminder that I just never know where people have come from and what they have been through. May I never assume that I know someone just because I have had a few short conversations with them. Help me to love, not only because I am loving, but because it is right, transformative, and redeeming. May that unrelenting love guide me. May those I interact with see your love in my eyes and may I have the grace to offer each person time and dignity. May I see you in every face and every soul inside of your love. Thank you for the wonder of a mother's love. I pray for healing for my friend's heart and for the return of song in her life.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

To live and love simply

"To live and love simply" is the name I gave my blog right before I officially left Pensacola for my Mission Year in Camden, New Jersey. I thought it coincided appropriately with Mission Year's motto, "Love God. Love People. Nothing Else Matters." During Mission Year, I was encouraged to love people in the midst of their brokenness and not in spite of it. I was encouraged to live simply and not get wrapped up in the materialism of capitalist values. I was taught how to pursue relationships intentionally and "embrace the awkwardness." I was restricted from relationships that were reliant solely upon technology and was required to play silly games for a family night with my housemates or board games on the sidewalk with neighbor kids. I had deep and meaningful conversations with people who I may have otherwise only said hello to in passing, all because of this crazy notion of living and loving simply.

In one of my grad program readings, Louis Wirth writing in 1938 says, "The larger the number of persons in a state of interaction with one another the lower is the level of communication and the greater is the tendency for communication to proceed on an elementary level, i.e., on the basis of those things which are assumed to be common or to be of interest to all." Wirth was writing about the phenomenon of urbanism, but it made me wonder what his take on social networking of the 21st century would be. If he thought urban relationships were superficial, he would probably think social networking makes relationships little more than having a couple hundred imaginary friends. He differentiated between "secondary" and "primary" contacts and how urbanism turns most relationships into mere acquaintances or "secondary" contacts.

I currently have 679 friends on facebook and of those, probably only 50 are people I would consider primary contacts currently in my life and maybe another 50 who would be primary contacts if I didn't have the luxury of relying on facebook to know what is going on in their lives. Facebook offers me a convenient way of feeling like I know my friends without actually having to call or write or visit. That is at least 560 other people who I either do not know at all or don't even really care to know and yet, every minute I see another status update about how they spent their day or what song lyric best represents what they are feeling in that moment.

Now, there are some things I really like about facebook. I like that it tells me when my friend's birthdays are because my memory is not what it used to be when I was a kid and had every friend and family member's birthday and phone number memorized. I like that I hardly ever have to read a newspaper because status updates let me know when something major is going on in the world. I like that it allows me to see how kids I used to teach have grown up and what colleges they are attending now. I like that I can see photographs of friends who live across the country or in another country entirely. I like that it has reconnected me with some friends who I have otherwise lost touch with. However, I don't like that I can then just send a quick wall post saying, "Hey! Saw you pop up on my feed and I was wondering how you were. Hope you are well!" or "Happy Birthday! Hope you have a great one!" Why thank you, Facebook, for allowing me to meet my quota for the week of "thoughtful friend" points.

So in one week, I'm deleting my facebook. I'm putting it out there that if you want to keep in touch with me, you can message your number/email/address and then I will do my best to keep in contact. But I am tired of the fact that over 500 of my daily interactions with people happen through status updates via a computer screen and usually from people that I have little to no contact with in my daily life and probably never will. I believe that God created us to be in real relationship with one another; to live and love simply. I don't think that includes 550 people I would never even think to call or write or visit. 550 people I might not even recognize if I passed them on the street.

Disclaimer: I am aware of the small irony to writing about all of this on a public blog that maybe 2 people read or maybe 50, but somehow, I feel like being able to write a few paragraphs on at least a semi-regular basis of what is truly in my heart is better than a one line status update or comment every few days.

APA formatting: Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a way of life. The American Journal of Sociology, 44 (1), 1-24.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Are we ready?

On Saturday, May 21, the supposed “End of the World,” I watched a homeless man, probably no older than I am, get arrested on the corner of 18th and Chestnut in Center City Philadelphia by plain-clothes police officers. I had passed this young man probably only 20-30 minutes earlier on my way to put more money in my parking meter. He sat on the sidewalk quietly and peaceably holding a sign telling passersby that he is homeless. On my way back, from a distance I noticed two other men dressed plainly, but with an air of authority speaking to this man. As I got closer, I saw his hands bound by handcuffs. I passed them, disturbed, thoughts of “what should I do here?” running through my mind. Should I approach and ask what this man was being arrested for? Should I challenge these men of authority? What would happen? Would it do any good at all? Instead, I walked a little farther away and watched feeling dismayed, helpless, and incredibly guilty. Don’t I want to be and claim to be an advocate for the voiceless, marginalized, and oppressed? How could I just stand there, watching injustice happen and do nothing? After they took him away, I walked farther down the street and stopped to talk to another homeless man on the street. I told him about what I just saw and asked if he knew anything about it. He told me that it happens a lot, people who are homeless often get arrested just for sitting on the sidewalk. “Sometimes businesses call them into the police because they feel like it isn’t good for business.” I can imagine. Customers seeing homelessness right outside the name-brand stores they enter to spend money on things they probably don’t need is definitely not good for the free market.

During the last month, I have been taking a class on the New Testament book of Acts with a group called the Alternative Seminary. The Alternative Seminary is affiliated with a nonprofit advocacy group called Project H.O.M.E. that offers services, housing, and a voice to the homeless of Philadelphia. These last two weeks, these partner organizations have been calling their friends to political advocacy for the homeless in Philadelphia. New legislation is being written specifically to target the homeless who sit peaceable on sidewalks and in parks in Center City Philadelphia and enable the police to cite and arrest anyone homeless on the streets. The bill essentially makes homelessness a crime and I watched an arrest happen last weekend even without the legislation passed that makes it legal. Project H.O.M.E. is calling friends and neighbors to fight this bill and I thank God that the Spirit is moving in people who will stand against injustice that is so against the teachings of Jesus.

I sat in my class tonight among people, like me, committed to living lives of simplicity, compassion, and justice. I live with a community of women and surround myself with friends who are advocates for a simpler lifestyle that works against these oppressive systems of capitalism, individualism, and greed. These are the values I hold and things I so strongly believe in. Poverty is a system of injustice and violence inflicted upon people by greed, neglect, and by political and economic systems of power. I watched it in action. And I know, beyond any doubt that these systems are corrupt, oppressive, and entirely against the upside-down kingdom of God that Jesus preached about in which the meek inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor and the peacemakers are called children of God. But tonight, one of my classmates asked a question that completely shook and disturbed us all to the point that we ended the evening praying, “Thank you, God, for disturbing us.” When we preach the good news of Jesus, of a God who offers refuge and justice to the poor, who calls us to live simply and care for the poor and give voice to the voiceless, who summons us to love our neighbors and live counter-culturally to the powers of this world; when we preach this good news, call others to follow and they do, when these systems eventually come down (and I believe they will come down), then what? THEN WHAT? The questions are no longer, “are these systems corrupt and oppressive?” and “is the spirit of God calling us to work against them?” We know they are and that He is. The question is, are we prepared enter the likely painful process of picking up the pieces after we’ve broken them and work to create something that is “of one accord” with the Kingdom?

That is a really scary prospect that requires a great amount of faith in a God that desires redemption and transformation. When the capitalism system, the biggest, most powerful, and one of the most oppressive systems of our present world, crashes, the effect will probably be that people will lose jobs and we will have to find new solutions to living with and among each other. The world will be completely turned upside-down, “destroyed” if you will, broken and in a state of confusion as it was in the biblical story of the Tower of Babel and in Acts 19:23-41 when rioting was the effect of Paul’s disrupting of the market with the power of the gospel. What if the “fires of destruction” predicted in end times theology are the people of God in the Spirit of God bringing down the powers of injustice and oppression that dominate our world? What if the New Jerusalem is not something God just waves his magic wand and “poof!” there it is, but something that we work to bring to life from the ashes?

I believe in a God of love, grace, redemption, and transformation because I have experienced all of those things in my own life. But to experience them, I needed to be broken first. To experience love, I needed to feel loss. To experience grace, I needed to be humbled. To experience redemption, I needed to feel deep responsibility and remorse. To experience transformation, I needed to die to myself. So now, I ask myself what I ask all people of faith, when we move with the Spirit of God and break the yokes of oppression, are we willing and ready to pick up the pieces, keep trusting and listening to the Spirit, and creatively care for our neighbors and our enemies who have fallen?